The Afghan Women's Writing Project was begun as a way to allow the voices of Afghan women -- too often silenced -- to enter the world. During my two visits to Afghanistan, I've been inspired by the grace, courage and determination of many women I've met: child brides, women imprisoned for fleeing abusive husbands, war widows surviving against numerous odds. As the Taliban regains power, particularly in the south of the country, these women's freedoms are again threatened. I hope you will take a moment to read these compelling blog entries, only a few of which are below. Please join our mailing list and spread the world. If you are a creative writing teacher and would like to volunteer to teach online in a three-week block, please be in touch.
This project would not be possible without the outstanding American women authors and teachers who generously donate their time to mentor women writing in Afghanistan. Additionally, the tireless contributions of webmaster extraordinaire Jeff Lyons and web designers Terry Dougherty and Rose Daniels have been crucial. Our inspiring partners are SOLA in Afghanistan and the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation based in Vermont; please visit their websites. And be in touch with any questions.
We start running away too. Then I saw the Taliban's car. Their car was moving slowly. Two of them jumped out and began beating a girl. She was around my age. They were beating her because she didn't have a burqa. I had heard of, but had not seen, such as event before. I started crying. I was not able to run. My mother hid me in her burqa. She was afraid too.
Since Pakistan had closed its borders, we, like many others, went through the mountains and through the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). While climbing the mountains, I paused and looked down. A lot of women, men and children were climbing also, and some had donkeys and other animals with them. There were also people smuggling cars illegally to Pakistan. No matter what, business never stops -- that is true, is it not?
"The opportunity did not exist for me and my sister to go to school and become educated," says Malali, a member of a new women's organization founded in conservative Farah Province. "We married when we were very young. We have no information about anything. Our first workshop was about elections."
Caroline Leavitt is the author of eight acclaimed novels. Her ninth, Breathe, is forthcoming in 2010. In 2004, she was named one of the UCLA Writing Program's Outstanding Instructors of the year.
I tend to have at least 16 projects going at once, and almost no free time, but when Masha mentioned she was starting a program about teaching writing to Afghan women, how could I not want to do this? The women, she explained, sometimes had to have male relatives take their work to the Internet cafes. They sometimes might not want their names mentioned or details kept private. I kept wondering: what could I possibly teach these women?
When I first saw the topics they were writing about-being married at 14, deciding not to marry but to continue to teach, I began to realize that my assignments (simple descriptions, character studies) had to be much more focused. It astonished me when women apologized for their grammar or their writing. (Yes, the grammar needed work, but these women would go over and over it until they got it right. They asked a million questions.) One woman wrote me privately to ask that I not post her work because she was afraid the others might laugh at her work. The women all apologized for being late with assignments. Dumbfounded, I assured all of them that there was nothing to apologize for, that I felt it was an act of bravery every time they wrote a single word, and it was my honor to teach them.
Recently, I posted to one of the women, "I wish we could all meet at a café for coffee and pie." I meant it. The stories these women have to tell are remarkable, but even more remarkable, are the women themselves.
Kerry Cohen is the author of a young adult novel who received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon and an MA in counseling psychology from Pacific University.
It's been too easy to feel disconnected from what's happening in the Middle East, and this is especially true regarding women. Our lives are so different here, and of course news and literature from Americans only gets to certain truths, not at all the whole truths, and pretty much never the truths that come straight from Afghan women. This is why I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this project.
What I've found thus far is that these women are simply trying to live their lives - just like anywhere else - but the difference is that many have been witness to violence and suppression we can't imagine here in America. I'm so proud of these amazing women for sharing their sometimes shocking, sometimes ordinary stories.
For more information on the Afghan Women's Writing Project please contact:
The Afghan Women's Writing Project Masha Hamilton, Project Founder 686 Sterling Place Brooklyn, New York 11216 Phone: 917.821.6119 / Email: email@example.com
Many of our students and women writers, especially outside of Kabul, cannot get to an Internet cafe due to security considerations. A laptop at home and a jump drive would allow them to write their pieces, and then ask a male relative to send the work at an Internet cafe. A $20 donation will buy a flash drive and $500 in donations will buy a laptop for our women writers. No contribution is too small. Thank you for considering it.
Your credit card donation will be handled by Friends of Afghanistan's secure Paypal payment. Or you can mail a check made out to Friends of Afghanistan:
Terry Dougherty , 15021 Prairie Park Cv, Hoagland, IN 46745. Write SOLA or Afghan Women Writers on the check.
We will send your tax deductible donation to the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation for the purpose you indicate.
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